Last night Milkboy Philly played host to some blue-eyed soul from Caleb Hawley, whose alumni status at both Berklee College of Music and American Idol is a rare combination uniquely suiting him to the sort of indie soul/pop he’s purveying these days. Before he and his band took the stage, however, the crowd warmed up to the impassioned crooning of Harrisburg singer-songwriter Trey Overholt, whose pared-down set of originals accompanied only by his own electric guitar sounded even better on stage than in his recent pack of free downloads. Album standout “West Virginia” was certainly a highlight, getting the few people there so early on to sing and sway along to its soulful groove. It was a good thing they were at least swaying by the time local saxophonist Max Swan and his band took the stage, because their propulsive rhythms and wailing solos virtually commanded hips to shake throughout the room.
I had previously heard Max as a session player on Bey & CodeNine’s Infatuation EP, but had no idea what to expect from a saxophonist band leader. I was thoroughly impressed. Moving seamlessly back and forth between singing, playing his sax, and pounding out beats on a Maschine as his talented backing musicians traded solos, it was as if a new hybrid genre was being invented before my eyes. Local rapper Aime joined them on stage for “Inner Urge” off the OGEP after several new songs from an upcoming project. The inclusion of an MC with a full band in Philadelphia was bound to draw comparisons to The Roots, a fact Swan was quick to make light of when thanking Aime for joining them, but the whole set called the legendary group to mind, as well as EDM saxophonist Big Gigantic and electronic/R&B experimentalist James Blake. Not satisfied with just the range of sounds possible by running his saxophone through effects pedals, he even played several songs on a MIDI sax, playing both a bass synth and what sounded like a flute run through an overdrive pedal simultaneously. The whole album, including a Tupac remix or two and a guest spot from local rap phenom Mic Stew, is up for free download on Max’s Soundcloud:
Headliner Caleb Hawley recently changed his sound from a more folk-oriented indie sound to full-blown neo-soul with help from producer Dan Molad of Lucius. He really went for it, too, the first song reminiscent of early Maroon 5, guitar-driven soul with a glossy pop sheen. Once he added a small horn section, with a sax player, trombonist, and trumpeter cramming themselves onstage behind the keyboardist, the throwback nature of his influences was more readily apparent, calling to mind Steely Dan or more recently Mayer Hawthorne. Excellent guitar playing and an effortless demeanor quickly demonstrated his TV-honed and road-worn showmanship, as he cracked jokes and even waded out into the crowd on occasion, as well as weaving in well-known songs like Biggie Smalls’ “Mo Money Mo Problems” into his own compositions. Powerful vocals allowed the singer-songwriter to cover local legends Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love To You” with enthusiastic audience participation, as well as using Carl Carlton’s classic “She’s A Bad Mama Jama” to close with aplomb. After the full horn section left the stage, he called Max Swan back to the stage for one song, and then both Swan and the trombonist joined him for that final jam. It was a fantastic show, full of danceable riffs and singalong choruses all held together by Hawley’s tremendous charisma. It was the inaugural night of what is sure to be an excellent spring tour, the dates of which can be found by clicking on the photo below.
By Dave Fox | Philadelphia Ambassador | @philosofoxthedj | Beat-Play and Music Without Labels, LLC